The Other Son

by Daniel Loebl

My father broke his hip 10 years ago. He lost his short-term memory after he came out of the surgery. A side effect of the anaesthesia, according to the doctors. It happens one-sixth of the time with older patients and isn’t predictable or preventable. I am an only child. My father stopped recognizing me after his surgery. Every time he saw me he said he had a son just like me. He told me elaborate stories about this other son he remembered: He was so respectful of his parents. He owned an online business and lived in a penthouse in Manhattan. He believed in God and had married a woman of the faith. He liked Republican politics. He played a mean game of tennis.

When we did a video call, my father was surprised to see me and asked my name every time. He told me the same three jokes he knew over and over again. Sometimes he said he would love it if I would meet his son. He thought he could arrange it, that I could learn a lot from him. He had forgotten his son’s number. He would try to remember it for next time. Of course, he never did.

I called once a week to see how things were in their life. My mother answered, gave me a medical and mood update, then put the phone in my father’s hand so he could see me. My father stared at the screen for a moment, then smiled and asked me if I had ever met his son. After that he rambled on about whatever this other son had done for him and how grateful he was to him. Then he asked me why I had called: Was I a friend of his son’s? Did he need something? I never answered him. There was no point in it: whatever I said would be forgotten a second after he heard it.

My father died 6 months ago. He died while taking a nap. My mother was taking a shower. He was alone in the bedroom just long enough for death to take him. I was working in Asia and didn’t go to the funeral.

I’ve started to hear my father’s voice when I am cooking, cleaning, or working in the studio. It doesn’t matter if I am with other people or alone. I feel his warm breath on the back of my neck. I smell the dry mucus and dirty teeth next to my ears. Whatever I do, he whispers the same question with a taunting note:

Have I ever told you about my son?